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Sonny Stitt. Why didn´t he become as famous as Dexter?

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Recently I listened to some Muse recordings of Stitt. He really had it all. Such a great musician. I also saw him live.

And...... I have been a live-long fan of Dexter Gordon and saw him live many many times, but now I see it in a more critical way. That constantly playing behind the beat and all. 

What was the reason that their was so much tam tam about Dexter, as a hero coming back to the States, while Stitt has lived their all his live and played some of the best tenor and alto. 

I saw Stitt in 1980 touring Europe as a single with local players and smaller halls, while Dexter had his own quartet and did the big gigs. 

Well, Stitt had "his cups" sometimes, but Dexter? I think he was always drunk. 

Did those who managed Dexter think that he would make a better "story", a better "legend" and better press photos than Stitt ? 

What are your opinions ? 

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Don't you know that Sonny Stitt had always been accused of just having been a Charlie Parker copycat? (Despite assertions that he had come to his ideas and style on his own and had the basics of his style set before Bird exerted any further influence - something which we will never know for sure one way or another - but REALLY "one way or another" - but the benefit of doubt did not apply to him, it seems) So THAT accusation alone at THAT time would have done him in with many on the scene.

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Are we talking about now or then (late 70s / early 80s) or both?

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6 hours ago, Rabshakeh said:

Are we talking about now or then (late 70s / early 80s) or both?

Late 70´s /early 80s 

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Dexter always had "charisma" and he knew how to use it...except for those lost years. But otherwise, he had a product in himself. People looking for a product to sell, he made it easy for them.

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Yes, maybe that was the reason. 

But about Sonny Stitt as a copycat, of course I have heard and read that stuff also, but Stitt had another sound and other phrasing, and on tenor he was definitly his own. I think, the tenor had become his main instrument anyway. 
And as early as 1949 on the first Prestige session with Bud he plays some of the best bop tenor of his generation. He is top on "Giants of Jazz" and all his albums for Muse are very exiting. Recently I have listened to his 70´s album "12" and I think there is more playing and more repertoir than Dexter did in all the years after his "comeback". That´s it, Dexter used his "charisma" more than the music. I was one of his biggest fans during lifetime, but listening over and over again I got to a more critical point.....

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I was listening to Blows The Blues last night off the back of this thread, and I was struck at what a master he was. 

Aside from the copycat thing, perhaps it was his reputation as a blues based player (all the Gene Ammons records)? I wasn’t there, but I don’t get the sense that the jazz critical establishment in NY at the time really prized that sort of playing. Maybe I am wrong. Those Cobblestones and Muses are great, but again perhaps there weren’t enough of them and they came too late to displace critical opinion of Stitt as a Bird copycat turned blues slogger?

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21 minutes ago, Rabshakeh said:

I was listening to Blows The Blues last night off the back of this thread, and I was struck at what a master he was. 

Aside from the copycat thing, perhaps it was his reputation as a blues based player (all the Gene Ammons records)? I wasn’t there, but I don’t get the sense that the jazz critical establishment in NY at the time really prized that sort of playing.

I don't have the full picture to judge this either but I would not be surprised one bit if you were right.
 

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Well it’s always a wild guess with things like this isn’t it? Maybe the copycat issue has something to do with it. Maybe the fact that Dexter signed up with Blue Note? 

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I don’t know about the copycat thing because I thought that on tenor he had his own style. Could it be that he tended to play a lot of standards and tried and true material?  There’s that great story about Alfred Lion freaking out when Sonny and Dexter playing standards at a session. At any rate, his Muse recordings are some amazing stuff. 

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Stitt did not have his own group. He played and recorded with a very broad number of musicians. His recordings on Muse, Cobblestone, and a a relatively few others were extremely good, but he made numerous others that while perfectly ok, seemed to lack the inspiration that made them anything special.

Dexter along with Wardell Gray was perceived as the person who moved the tenor sax into the bebop realm. He was  an influence on many tenor players , Coltrane being one key example.

Stitt played alto far more than tenor, and Bird was already the dominant force on alto. Perhaps had he put the alto aside and played tenor 90% of the time Stitt would have gained more fame across the jazz scene.

  

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They were both great IMHO.

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Dexter was a star, who had a great personality and an identifiable sound.  When you played a Dex record, you weren't hearing a tenor sax so much as you were hearing Dex.  Sonny Stitt was more of a journeyman, to which he'd probably admit.  Most of his records were interchangeable, and his solos by and large weren't memorable.  True, some of it may have been that he didn't have as romantic a story as Dex (he didn't have long stretches where he disappeared, he didn't spend a long time in Scandinavia), but it's mostly due to quality - Dex's playing was simply better, in that indefinable way that makes us want to hear a particular record.

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Stitt was the proverbial "lone wolf". He did have a band for a while, the great group with Don Patterson & Billy James. That band could raise hell!

But apart from that, his basic personality and lifestyle habits were such that he was one of those guys who would and could go from town to town as a single (and let's reflect on how that lifestyle has not totally disappeared, not yet, but it's getting pretty...rare). And he could easily suplement his income by picking up any kind of a record date, he could get paid for making a record, people knew they could sell a sonny Stitt record, not in smash hit quantities, but enough to make it plausible to do it again sometimes.

I guess in his earlier years he was a really nasty junkie and in his later years he drank a whole lot and could get mean there, too. And stories abound of him looking for a fight, musically, even when playing with competent local rhythm sections.

I mean, I love the guy, But - he did not have an unlimited vocabulary, and the interest in his records was never really waht he was going to play, but how he wa going to play it. Same with Dexter, but Dexter was one of those guys who HAD to be a "star". I get the feeling that whenever Dexter got high (on whatever) that it was a party, whereas with Stitt it was always going to be by himself as soon as possible.

When it comes to business, these things matter.

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7 hours ago, mjzee said:

Dexter was a star, who had a great personality and an identifiable sound.  When you played a Dex record, you weren't hearing a tenor sax so much as you were hearing Dex.  Sonny Stitt was more of a journeyman, to which he'd probably admit.  Most of his records were interchangeable, and his solos by and large weren't memorable.  True, some of it may have been that he didn't have as romantic a story as Dex (he didn't have long stretches where he disappeared, he didn't spend a long time in Scandinavia), but it's mostly due to quality - Dex's playing was simply better, in that indefinable way that makes us want to hear a particular record.

Calling Sonny Stitt a "journeyman" could be going a bit too far.  But I do tend to agree with these comments in general.   Dexter Gordon had one of the most distinctive sounds in jazz, a voice that was unmistakable.  Stitt was something more like a linear combination of Bird, Pres, and whoever else he wanted to throw in on a given night, which was also a great thing if not quite as distinctive.   I saw both of them live fairly often at the Keystone Korner.  Stitt could often WOW you the most but Dexter still left the deepest imprint.  

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Oh, as far as Stott having a band, remember that Stitt & Jug were a pretty busy affair for a good few years in the early 1950s. But to the OP,"s point, that circuit did not draw "critical attention".

In that world, a case could probably be made that Stitt was a star BEFORE Dexter, but that stardom shrunk as the infrastructure that supported it did. Stitt was not temperamentally inclined to adapt, and so it went.

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Of all jazz saxophonists associated with bebop and hard bop, for me he is the least heard and least appreciated.  He did go very heavy with standards and the occasional Charlie Parker tune.  But I am sure he is an artist who will rise in estimation if I listen to more of his work. 

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It might also be a factor of availability. Dexter Gordon's return was an event. Whereas I assume New Yorkers had been looking at listings for a decade at that point and going "Sonny Stitt? No we have plans that night. Maybe next time".

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As I was listening to Stitt's 12! this afternoon, I found this in Giddins' liner notes:

"...Sonny was a classic. He (Stitt) has evolved a style that, far from being close to Bird's, and this was the kind of criticism once used so glibly to dismiss his own individuality, is highly personal and idiodynamic. He does not merely play bop, but instead, uses this vocabulary of bop to play himself."

Giddins also echoes (or presages) what has been said in this thread already, and that is that jazz fans were essentially spoiled of the riches that Stitt provided as he performed and recorded with great frequency.

FWIW, on 12! Stitt plays tenor on 5 of the 7 tracks. 

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1 hour ago, Dub Modal said:

Giddins also echoes (or presages) what has been said in this thread already, and that is that jazz fans were essentially spoiled of the riches that Stitt provided as he performed and recorded with great frequency.

Not really....not all of those records would spoil anybody. A lot of them were solid B+ efforts ?And more than a few weren't that good.

But the great ones, and there are some great ones, just amplify how many of them aren't. I have know plenty people - myself included - who bought a Sonny Stitt record or five "just because". That was a better audience than the one today!

But when it comes time to thin the herd, a lot of those will be going.

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Thank you all for your most interesting answers, 

Well, the thing is that during his lifetime I was a huge fan of Dexter, it just jumped on the Dexter hype that started with his comeback to the States. We were just a bunch of guys who went everywhere to see him live and buy all his current albums and the albums from the past. It was his sound, and that strange laidback playing that fascinated us, and last not least his personality, He even made us smile, when he was drunk, somehow he made a funny show out of it, even if it became funky in later years....

But now after years I´m a bit more critical and that ever creasing playing very much behind the beat somehow starts to get on my nerves. 

I have memories about a special event in early spring 1980 when we had that huge festival, 3 days starring Dexter, Max Roach, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Chet Baker and many others at Tehnical University. Just one day before, Sonny Stitt played at an other venue "Porrhaus" with Fritz Pauer, Aladár Pege and Fritz Ozmec. So I heard Stitt first, and 3 days later Dexter who was scheduled on the third day of the festival. 

As some of you said, it was Dexter being himself, that he was meant to become more famous than Stitt. He was good for a hero story, a surviver, and being so tall and with that deep voice and slow speaking... 

It´s natural that Dexter was chosen for the film, and not Stitt. As you said, Stitt was a lonesome guy, who traveled lot as a single.

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Interesting that Dexter playing behind the beat "got on your nerves".  There are a number of musicians who - play behind the beat - and I often find that very appealing. I suppose, like so many other aspects in music, we all have things we like and things we don't care for.

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15 hours ago, JSngry said:

Not really....not all of those records would spoil anybody. A lot of them were solid B+ efforts ?And more than a few weren't that good.

But the great ones, and there are some great ones, just amplify how many of them aren't. I have know plenty people - myself included - who bought a Sonny Stitt record or five "just because". That was a better audience than the one today!

But when it comes time to thin the herd, a lot of those will be going.

Actually, I misrepresented what Giddins was saying. Rectifying that with a direct quote from his liners for 12!:

"...perhaps he has been too visible. As one of the most frequently recorded jazz soloists, he has inevitably put down some uninspired music and a lot of people, this writer included, passed over what he was doing. Last year we had cause to wake up. For one thing, Sonny was travelling with the Giants of Jazz and playing well, sometimes brilliantly. For another thing, a record called Tune-Up! was made, with three exemplary compatriots (Sam Jones, Barry Harris & Alan Dawson), and it caught Stitt playing with astonishing imagination and verve..." 

He's tracking pretty much with exactly what you're saying. And btw; these liners were written in/around 1973, so that Giants of Jazz tour would have been 1972. Tune-Up! was recorded in February of '72.  

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In between Tune Up! + 12! was Constellation, which is for my money, the most consistently brilliant of Stitt's LPs...DAMN that's a good one from start to finish. but that period was a peak of sorts, maybe his last. He kept making all kinds of records, none of which were great, even if a number of them were good.

This is just who the guy was, it was how he lived. It's not really a contradiction to say that he had greatness in him and showed it when motivated. but he also didn't always want to. And that didn't seem to bother him, so...I don't let it bother me.

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

In between Tune Up! + 12! was Constellation, which is for my money, the most consistently brilliant of Stitt's LPs...DAMN that's a good one from start to finish. but that period was a peak of sorts, maybe his last. He kept making all kinds of records, none of which were great, even if a number of them were good.

This is just who the guy was, it was how he lived. It's not really a contradiction to say that he had greatness in him and showed it when motivated. but he also didn't always want to. And that didn't seem to bother him, so...I don't let it bother me.

Painting with a broad brush here, but by and large Stitt more or less skates or surfs on top of the music, which is certainly genuine on his part and can be delightful; Dexter, by contrast, digs in.

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